Doing the Most Good for Myself

It’s not that I have failed miserably at living a more healthy lifestyle, it’s that I’m failing miserably at blogging. Or, rather, making the time to blog. In fact, I am happy to report that I have been more consistent with eating more healthy and getting regular exercise than ever before. I am part of an awesome running group in which I actually participate. This past weekend, I completed a 5k in 40 minutes, which is a milestone for me. I cycle. Two weeks ago, I cycled 21-miles through the beautiful city of Baltimore. I eat more fruits and veggies. Just last night I made a Nigerian-inspired dish consisting of spinach and dried fish. Ever since purchasing a Vitamix several months ago, the whole family looks forward to eating kale, spinach, mangoes, berries of every kind, avocados (which I ordinarily hate), apples, oranges, pineapple. I could go on. You name it, we blend it on at least a weekly basis.

The thing about this stage is that I have arrived here slowly, but surely. It’s been hit and miss mixed with hope and frustration many times. It’s taken having more compassion for myself and letting go of some unreasonable expectations. I’m not at my ideal place, but I am certainly content that I’m headed in the right direction. I feel more confident that it will continue to improve from here.

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I’m Back, and Back on the Wagon

I’m beginning to realize that this blog is less about my journey to fitness, and more about my struggles as I try to live a consistently healthier, more active life. This may be saying the same thing, but it feels more like struggle than journey. Perspective, perhaps? My weakness is staying on-task, but my strength is perseverance. I will keep trying and trying at something until I get it right. So I have every confidence that I can achieve what I’m setting out to do. I won’t give it a time frame, but will just do my best to remain consistent and steadfast.

Wonderful things have happened since my last post. I passed a major exam and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy in May. During my pregnancy I gained almost 40lbs, 25 of which I have already lost. But my goal is not just to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight. Nor even the pre-pregnancy weight of my first born. My goal is to get down to what I call my “pre-California” weight. What does that mean?

I moved to the Bay Area in 2006 to begin my pre-doctoral internship and eventual fellowship in Clinical Psychology. It was a highly stressful time. It was actually during this time that I was officially diagnosed with hypertension. Before moving to California, I lived in the DC, MD, VA area, a place I love and have since returned to. Some days and evenings, I was on-call for psychiatric emergencies, which usually resulted in entirely sleepless nights. Even when no calls came in, I was so stressed anticipating a call that I barely slept. I was living on a pittance of a stipend in one of the most expensive cities in the country, and the man I was dating (my now husband) was over 3000 miles away. I lived where I could afford, ate what was quick and cost-effective, and lived in a perpetual state of high stress. Also, I was in my early thirties, and my once high metabolism started to slow down. The perfect opportunity for weight gain and other health problems to creep in.

So now that I’ve had my second child, and am four weeks post c-section, I am ready to get back into a more rigorous fitness regimen. Thanks to my Sorors Erika and Rita, I was put onto FitnessVT. This site offers personalized weekly meal plans for a reasonable price. They even provide a grocery list so you’re not spending a lot of time trying to figure out what to buy. I’m also excited about getting back to my early morning cycling around my neighborhood. How I’ve missed my bike!

More to come…

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I’ve Gained 20 Pounds…

…because I’m 26 weeks pregnant! Which is my genuine reason for having been so remiss with my blog. I fully intend to return to my blog with more regularity and commitment after baby boy is born. But now that I’m no longer feeling sick and nauseous, I will do my best to chronicle what I can, when I can. Did I mention that I also have a 2-year-old?

I’m finding that the commitment it takes to eat well can be easily railroaded when it’s not a priority, which it hasn’t been in recent months. I am proud to say that I have not gone crazy with regard to my eating habits, but I must also admit to eating more foods that I had previously restricted before becoming pregnant.

I have frequented Sal’s Pizzeria about five too many times. We typically make our own pizza, but Sal’s greasy, cheesy, New York-style slices insist that this is the easier and quicker route. And, frankly, I don’t always feel up to going through all the effort of making pizza at home. My back hurts and I’m tired. I have also visited McDonald’s on 4 occasions for their French fries and once for their fish bites (I know, eww). I went to Dunkin’ Donuts for the first time in years in January, and have returned two other times, though getting donuts only on the first occasion. What is going on? I can only surmise that I’ve been trying to comfort myself when I’m feeling not-so-great and allowing myself a few too many indulgences because, well, don’t I deserve it right now? Also, it takes energy and time that I usually don’t have to plan and prepare better choices. Did I mention that I’m also studying for a major professional exam?

Things I have done well include: Running a 5k at 11 weeks. Drinking tons of water. Being very careful about my portion sizes. Drinking tons of water. Committing to purchasing a Vitamix. Not beating myself up and trying to enjoy my pregnancy. Allowing very little stress to encroach upon my life.

I am pretty content with my overall success at gaining a healthy amount of weight for pregnancy and keep myself motivated by having joined many fitness support groups a few of my friends are a part of and looking forward to being able to get back into exercise as soon as I get the green light to do so. Until then, I will continue to watch my portion sizes and choose to make better choices more often. I’m a work in progress!

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Last week was a real struggle. A pothole on my road to wellness. My in-laws were in town and I was sick the entire time. Making good choices proved challenging as I attempted to cater to differing dietary needs and desires. I barely felt like cooking at all, let alone for a number of people. I mostly just wanted to lie down. Instead, I took the approach of flying by the seat of my pants. Pasta was in heavy rotation. It easily provided several days’ worth of meals. My husband and I even ordered pizza one evening against both our better judgements. We made ourselves feel better by only eating two guilty slices. I also missed two full days of boot camp because I felt too ill to go. It was an entire week of fail.

So why exactly did all of this happen? Most of it was poor planning. And to be fair, I was sick. But had I properly planned ahead, preparing meals might have proven less daunting. I am learning that this is going to be crucial to being successful in regularly eating a healthy and balanced diet. The problem is, I’m not particularly gifted when it comes to planning ahead. Especially meals. I struggle with time management for all but the most essential of responsibilities because there is simply too much for me to do.

What have I learned from this? Mostly that it’s not the end of the world. But I also don’t want to be thrown off whenever circumstances are not optimal. Not only do I need to plan ahead for when we have extended stay guests, I also need to get better about planning family meals ahead of time. I’ve come across a couple of websites that could prove useful should I actually use them. The first is SparkPeople. I use this site more for the recipes than for creating meal plans. But I recently came across another website that also has some promise at MerckEngage. I’m still in the beta stage with this.

I know there are probably staples those who have mastered a healthy lifestyle always have on hand. I’m hoping to learn exactly what those are. It would also be really great to have a strategy for making sensible choices when dining out. I plan on getting to all those things. Eventually.

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Don’t Believe the Hype!

Most people will agree it’s impossible to lead a genuinely healthy life without being active. One of my biggest challenges has been remaining consistent about exercise and eating healthy at the same time. I’ve tended toward doing one or the other, and then feeling like a failure or quitter when I wasn’t able to follow through. I’ve been frustrated many times as I worked my butt off without losing a single pound, or as I attempted to adhere to some misguided ideology of “eating healthy” and nearly passed out.

When I lived in the Bay Area, I started a boot camp program that included TRX (which I now love). I asked my trainer for suggestions about healthy eating plans that would help me lose weight safely. It just so happened that the gym was about to launch a 21-Day Rapid Weight Loss program. Even though I never really intended for so ambitious a time frame as 21 days, it appealed to me. If I could lose weight in 21 days, that would be amazing! Plus, I really only wanted to lose about 10 pounds, so it seemed within reasonable reach. I embarked on this ambitious journey full of determination and hope.

The morning of day one, I choked down ate my allotted half portion of Ezekiel sprouted grain tortilla topped with unsalted almond butter and egg whites. Then I went to work out. I barely lasted half the class before my head started pounding through my skull. I was doing burpees on essentially no fuel. By the time class ended, I was so weak, I felt like I had a virus.

At least I could have my packet of protein shake and 1/2 cup of berries later.

Not sure how I made it through my work day. My work requires empathy, intent listening, and quick thinking. All I remember focusing on was lunch and when could I eat it. I did not care about what was being said. I can only hope none of my patients thought I was crazy, because I wasn’t paying any attention that day and I did not care. At lunch, I wolfed down my 2 oz of salmon and 2 cups of spinach with balsamic vinaigrette like it was burgers and fries. I was still hungry and I felt very ill.

Good thing I’d brought a 1/2 cup of low-fat cottage cheese, 1/2 cup of berries and 1 1/2 tablespoons of raw unsalted almonds to get me through the rest of the afternoon.

The only thing I clearly remember thinking about on that day was when my next snack or meal was scheduled. Later, I ate my dinner of salmon and green beans topped with cashews. I told my husband, who’d previously expressed how dubious this plan sounded, that I wasn’t sure I could continue. Instead, I continued one more day. And when I finally made the decision to stop, I felt like such a failure and a quitter. I sabotaged myself with some TrueBurger. The best TrueBurger I ever ate.

The lesson I learned from this is that there are no quick methods for losing weight. And in fact, the goal should not necessarily be to lose weight, but to eat in a healthy way, with healthy portions, and exercise in some form consistently. At the moment, I’ve got the exercise thing locked down. I go to a boot camp with which I have a love/hate relationship. I hate getting up early in the morning for 5:45am class. I hate the nonstop working out for an entire hour. I especially hate Wednesdays, which are 100% cardio, including running hills, running several miles, and sprinting. But the very things I hate about it, are the things I love about it. Going to class at 5:45am, I’m done for the day. Last week, I ran farther and longer than I have in years. But most importantly, I can actually see and feel the changes on my body. My clothes fit better, less snugly, and I look more toned. The scale insists I haven’t lost a pound. Do I believe my eyes or the scale?

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Suddenly, I’m Martha Stewart

I was up early this morning baking applesauce oatmeal muffins. Although I enjoy cooking and baking, this can’t possibly last. For many reasons. But I know I need healthier breakfast alternatives and I can only eat so many egg whites. Muffins remind me of cake. They can be just as delicious and unhealthy. Remember those chocolate chip muffins from Costco? So I knew I had to choose a recipe that sounded hearty and filling, yet tasty.

The muffins turned out to be not too bad, but they aren’t knock-your-socks-off fantastic. I mean, I can’t rave about them or anything. They are tiny, but dense, which is good, and they are mildly sweet. They’d be really great with some tea. But at a purported 93.5 calories each, I’d need to eat at least three of them just to stay alive during boot camp. I could either do that, or just eat them as my post-workout meal. They could also make a pretty decent snack to supplement my now much preferred Cheez-It Duos, which are incredible. Notice I said supplement and not replace? Everything in due time.

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It Takes a Frying Pan (or Being Hit Over the Head with One)

“Living Well” and “Eating Healthy” are concepts that have largely escaped my understanding. I remember feeling sorry for people who felt they needed to live according to these esoteric principles. I had no real understanding, or interest for that matter, of what those terms entailed. They sounded like deprivation and hard work to me. I had been blessed with my father’s fast metabolism and huge appetite to match. I had always been skinny and could eat whatever I wanted without gaining a single pound. Skinny meant healthy in my book.

Raised by a mother from the Deep South and a father from Nigeria, healthy eating habits were not necessarily fostered in my home. Instead, I enjoyed a happy childhood filled with desserts after every meal that were made from scratch (sometimes box) . Snacking was not discouraged and it typically consisted of chips, Twinkies, Ding-Dongs and Ho-Hos. We dined at McDonald’s, Burger King, and Round Table Pizza when the mood struck us. Portion control was not a concept that had been widely introduced at the time. Super-size was invented while I was growing up. Dad’s plate was always filled to the edges and stacked high with food. He licked his plate clean as a grand demonstration to my mother of just how delicious he thought her cooking was. And her cooking is still amazing—she is from the south, after all.

But I also watched mom struggle with weight and the subsequent health issues that come with poor diet and lifestyle. She valiantly tried. She tried Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, and Nutrisystem in search of that magic combination that would help her lose weight and keep it off. Weight loss meant healthy. Frustratingly, none of those ever worked for her in the long-term.

My first warning that I should possibly be concerned about my health came when I was in my mid-20s. At a routine check-up, after taking my blood pressure, I was asked whether I had just gotten over an illness because my blood pressure was higher than expected for my age and weight. This same scenario played out several times with different doctors over the years. And I really didn’t give it much thought.

I continued through my twenties and early thirties not worrying about health or weight. I ate how and what I wanted. When I hit my thirties, however, I noticed my weight starting to creep up ever so slightly. That’s what alarmed me. Not that I was pre-hypertensive in my twenties, but that I was starting to hit the upper 120’s in weight. In my early 30s, things went from bad to dangerous. I’d just moved to the Bay Area to begin a very stressful internship. It was at a routine OB/GYN exam that I was officially diagnosed with hypertension. The doctor threatened that he normally refers women with blood pressures as high as mine to the ER. Maybe he was trying to scare me with the seriousness of the situation. I was promptly referred to a cardiologist.

My reasons for wanting to get a handle on what it means to live a healthy lifestyle are many. Being pregnant with my daughter and having uncontrolled hypertension nearly cost one or both of us our lives. I watch now as my parents, who are only in their early 60’s and early 70’s, live life as though they are much older. I want to grow very old and fabulous with my husband. My daughter will be watching me as I watched my mother. She will watch more than she will listen. And I haven’t developed many positive eating habits to show her.

Be it known that I have no idea what I’m doing. I tend toward things that are bad for me. My favorite foods tend to be fried, have heavy cream, and are made of cheese or chocolate. My thoughts about eating vegetables are that they are best fried in tempura batter or sprinkled with cheese. But I am learning, and what I learn, I want to remember and be able to refer back to it.

I’ve been on this path before. I exercise and “eat right” in fits and starts. I quit. Start again. Get motivated. Get unmotivated. Start again. A perpetual backslider, if you will. I find it difficult to concede that I can’t eat anything and everything I want. I’m on a journey to figure out how to lead a healthy life without suffering too much or choking down every meal.

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